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National Restaurant Association - President Clinton addresses NRA Show-goers; praises collaboration

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President Clinton addresses NRA Show-goers; praises collaboration

President Bill Clinton May 6 addressed a packed house of thousands of restaurateurs, foodservice suppliers and others attending NRA Show 2012 in Chicago, repeatedly urging cooperation and collaboration as the way to address the nation's challenges.

The former president praised the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program as an example of effective cooperation. Launched by the NRA in collaboration with Healthy Dining last summer, Kids LiveWell helps restaurateurs identify and promote healthy kids' menu options. Since the program's launch the number of participating restaurants companies has more than quadrupled.

"Thank you for all that's being done through your initiatives to try to help our kids live a healthier future," President Clinton said. "What works is what you're doing to feed kids and help them eat healthier. What works is cooperation."

He noted that the fight against childhood obesity is a top domestic priority for his Clinton Foundation. The foundation several years ago launched the Alliance for a Healthier Generation with the American Heart Association to tackle rising rates of childhood obesity.

The president said he realized that childhood obesity was "a 30-year problem that had no single cause, no single solution and no villain." He praised the voluntary collaborative efforts of soft drink manufacturers to reduce the calorie count of beverages in school vending machines and cafeterias, and work by foodservice manufacturers and distributors to increase the nutrition value of school lunches.

He also praised casual-dining giant Darden Restaurants for its "Harvest" program to donate leftover food to the hungry. Darden was recently featured in Chelsea Clinton's "Making a Difference" series for MSNBC.

The former president said reducing inequality and creating opportunity is his focus across the globe, and that rising complexity and interdependence demand new approaches.

"The world we live in has a lot of challenges that don't have a simple ideological solution," he said. "Argument is good; debate is critical ... but cooperation works better than conflict in the 21st century world," he said.

He said the American people "have to own up" to their role in electing a Congress that has become increasingly gridlocked. The nation's rising debt is a tremendous concern, but jobs are the U.S.'s -- and the world's -- biggest short-term challenge, he said: "Everybody wants a job."

He cautioned that he didn't think the U.S. "can either tax or cut your way out of this debt when there's no economic activity. When there's growth, it's a different story." He urged Congress and the President to act immediately to pass a strict 10-year debt-reduction plan, with spending limits triggered only when the nation hits targets for economic growth and employment. "You don't want to do anything to contract" growth.

He said he was optimistic about the nation's future. "I think it's a great mistake to count America out," he said, predicting a resurgence of American manufacturing. He said the U.S.'s demographic profile, as one of the youngest and most diverse nations, will continue to drive growth and innovation.

He also addressed health care reform, saying he hoped the Supreme Court would not overturn the 2010 health care law. "The most horrible alternative is to stay with what we have," he said. He noted that rising health insurance costs are making it increasingly difficult for employers to offer their workers insurance.

Of his accomplishments as President, he said he was most proud of the number of Americans who moved from poverty into the middle class during his time in office.

"That's the American Dream and that's where we've got to go again," he said. Work "gives form and dignity and direction to human life."

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